[This blog is part of a four-part series. Using SurveyMonkey, we surveyed 2,000 shoppers to understand sentiments around Amazon, and uncovered key trends revealing that the key to Amazon’s success is its industry-disrupting shipping offering.]
Consumers have a complex relationship with Amazon. They love it because of Amazon’s low prices, free shipping, and convenience. They hate it because, well, all of those positives come at a cost. Expedited shipping has a massive impact on the environment and working conditions at Amazon distribution centers. Low prices and convenience drive market share and increase Amazon’s retail footprint, taking sales away from competitors and putting them out of business.
As the general public has become more aware of Amazon’s impact, we’ve seen aggressive campaigns to convince shoppers to cancel Amazon Prime and stop shopping at Amazon altogether. Given all the controversy, it might seem logical that shoppers would find other businesses to patronize. After all, consumers have self-reported that their shopping habits are driven by something other than costs and immediate desires:
- 88% of respondents in a 2017 CSR study said they will be more loyal to a company that “supports social or environmental issues.”
- Almost 90% of respondents in a 2018 Futerra survey said they want brands to help them be “more environmentally friendly and ethical.”
- Two-thirds of consumers in a 2020 Yonder survey said they have changed their support for a brand based on the brand’s alignment with their own values.
Shoppers Weigh Environmental Impact and Retail Apocalypse Against Free Shipping
Today’s shoppers don’t weigh mounting concerns as equal to their needs for a wide variety of products at a low cost with fast, free shipping. In Convey’s 2020 survey on consumer sentiment towards Amazon, respondents indicated that they still shop with Amazon regardless of other factors:
- Nearly half of respondents said that they were “indifferent” to Amazon’s environmental impact.
- One-quarter of shoppers who believe Amazon is at least somewhat damaging to the environment still make 50% of their purchases on Amazon.
- Almost one-quarter of those surveyed who believe that Amazon has had a negative effect on the retail landscape also purchase 50% of their products on Amazon.
Shoppers are aware of the negatives of shopping at Amazon, but the brand still has over 150M Prime subscribers, and growing. But they feel remorse for their purchases, contributing to what we call “Amazon Guilt.” Customers in our survey focused on delivery cost as a reason why they kept shopping with the online behemoth. 4 out of 5 respondents (79.8%) said that they shopped at Amazon because of fast, free shipping. This was the top reason why respondents use Amazon.
In our annual delivery survey, Last Mile Delivery Wars, we found that demand for fast delivery skyrocketed by 92.8% year-over-year. However, shoppers were more likely to be more lenient with fast delivery if it was free. 12% of shoppers would not use Amazon if deliveries took longer than 1-2 days but were free. If given free delivery, 54.5% of shoppers would accept a 3-4 day delivery.
From there, there was a severe dropoff between what shoppers would accept in exchange for “free delivery.” 24.8% said they would accept a 5-6 delivery day time frame if it was ‘free,’ and 8.7% would accept ‘free’ delivery for an 8+ delivery day window.
Avoiding A Race To The Bottom With Amazon
When it comes to competing with Amazon, today’s retailers face severe constraints. They don’t have the resources to efficiently provide free two-day shipping without eating into profits. And really, neither does Amazon: the behemoth leverages profits from Amazon Web Services (AWS) in order to boost profitability in the face of skyrocketing shipping costs. The company will pay an estimated $3 billion to roll out its latest offering – free one-day shipping.
So what can retailers do to win over customers when the stakes keep increasing? Remember: shoppers want their desired experience at a low cost, thanks to expectations set by the online giant. To create a desirable experience for shoppers, retailers can start by understanding their current experience and costs – and working to improve both.
Amazon is delivering big on the customer experience – especially as it relates to delivery. When asked why they shop at Amazon in Convey’s 2020 survey, a plurality of those surveyed answered that it’s “easy” or “convenient.” Almost 20% said they prefer Amazon because of easy communication during delivery; almost three-quarters said Amazon sells almost everything they need.
The problem for retailers, according to Sucharita Kodali, is that the customer experience is not good enough to keep up with Amazon. “We still have so many issues with retailers not even having a handle on what’s in their stores, where it is, and ultimately delivering better customer service.”
However, there is good news: retailers can improve upon their own customer experience to win market share, without a massive investment (like Amazon’s $800 million to transition from standard two-day to one-day shipping). To do it, they need to fulfill their brand promise every day – without fail.
Drive Positive Delivery Experiences With Reliability
Jim Barnes, CEO of supply chain software firm enVista, encapsulates the delivery experience challenge for retailers: “It’s better that you three-day promise and hit it 99.9% of the time than to do two-day promise and do it 80% of the time, and tick off 20% of the customer base.” With over three-quarters of shoppers reporting that they will not return after a poor delivery experience, the likelihood of repeat purchases after a negative event is quite low.
Take Mary’s story: she’s signed up for a weekly grocery delivery service that helps eliminate food waste. Each week she’s excited to see what products are available. Her first two deliveries include items she didn’t order and her next few orders are missing items. One order is jammed so tight in the box that products are damaged; the next order is in such a heavy box that she can’t pick it up. The excitement of the initial process is clouded by problems with her delivery experience.
If Mary placed her order and everything was the same each week, she probably wouldn’t even think about the service – and that’s a good thing. If shoppers can rely on consistent delivery expectations, they don’t worry. One-third of respondent’s in Convey’s 2020 survey said they aren’t concerned with Amazon deliveries at all.
A Consistent Experience Starts With Connected Systems
What’s likely happening behind the scenes for many retailers is that workflows are disconnected. Retailers are still using spreadsheets to manage basic processes. According to a 2019 study Convey performed jointly with EFT:
- 66% of supply chain managers (SCMs) say that their top concern is the inability to connect disparate data together.
- 95% of SCMs don’t believe their current systems can fully support efforts to improve the customer experience (CX) — in fact 61% believe that their systems do nothing to improve CX.
- 89% of SCMs don’t feel confident that they can balance CX initiatives with rising transportation costs, despite continued efforts to balance cost, speed, and customer experience in last mile delivery.
To build a consistent, reliable customer experience, retailers need to transition from disconnected spreadsheets to connected platforms that allow for two-way communication. Unified workflows will allow retailers to solve problems before they happen. Here are just a couple of ways unified processes improve the customer experience:
Great Customer Delivery Experiences Start Well Before The Last Mile Delivery
Retailers know this all too well: the last mile of delivery for customer shipments makes up over 50% of transportation costs. There’s a lot of inefficiency and low visibility across carriers. Rush shipments often go out in vehicles that aren’t even half-full, driving up the cost (and environmental impact) of delivery.
When order management systems don’t connect to carrier data, there’s no opportunity to increase efficiency. And many retailers multiply this problem across carriers: three-quarters of them are using up to five different modes of transportation for delivery, with different systems for each of them.
By creating a unified view that includes customer orders and available shippers/shipment methods, retailers can proactively target the ideal transportation mode for each shipment. They can take into account inputs like shipping rates, service levels, modes of transportation, performance history, product details, and customer requirements.
Making And Keeping Delivery Promises
Retailers are often cut out of the conversation once a customer’s package has been shipped. They can provide the customer with tracking information from the carrier, but that doesn’t always help. And consumers expect retailers to help: 95% of shoppers reported that they expect retailers to proactively respond if the carrier’s estimated delivery date changes while a shipment is in transit.
The combined consumer expectation and lack of information on the retailer’s part puts retailers in a tough spot. Many respond by padding delivery dates. An expected delivery might arrive a couple days early – but shoppers don’t want to be surprised with an early delivery. Perishable items could be left outside for days in the heat; paper products might get soaked in the rain when a customer is out of town.
By connecting customer orders to real-time carrier data, retailers can use data to both drive sales and provide accurate shipping dates that customers can rely on. And if an issue occurs, customer service agents shouldn’t have to wait for customers to ask, “Where Is My Order?” They have the data and the means within their workflow to proactively resolve any issues.
Consistent Customer Delivery Experiences Will Continue to Drive Shopper Preferences
The speed of commerce has drastically increased over the last 10-15 years, and it’s not going to slow down any time soon. The type of customer experience that could have been achieved with more manual processes in years past is no match for the complexities of modern retailers.
Retailers that want to drive increased loyalty today must provide consistent, reliable experiences that keep customers coming back. By implementing unified systems that connect vital carrier data to command control, retailers can fulfill their brand promise with accurate shipping details, proactive exception management, lower-cost, last mile deliveries.
This blog is third in a series of four blogs on Amazon Guilt. We surveyed 2,000 respondents to understand shopper sentiments around Amazon.